A tripod is an essential piece of equipment for any photographer. It will allow you to get many shots that you could not otherwise, whether you are photographing landscapes or people, wide shots or macro shots. A tripod gives you much more flexibility in your exposure and can save your back from continuously holding heavy equipment. For the money, a tripod in your photography kit is a great investment.
Using a tripod is helpful for low light situations
Here are a few situations where a tripod can really take your photos to the next level:
1. Low light or night photography
When it’s dark, you get forced into using slow shutter speeds or high ISO, and sometimes both. The stability of a tripod allows you to use slow shutter speeds and low ISO while keeping your images sharp. Need a 2-minute exposure? No problem. You can expose as long as you want! As long as your subject is not moving, the image will remain crisp.
In some cases you may want part of the image to be moving, like the sweep of stars in the sky. You can show the movement of car tail lights going down the road with a long exposure in the evening. The easiest way to keep playing with your camera into the night is with a tripod.
2. Macro photography
With photos that are taken from close range, any movement in the camera is amplified and much harder to control when holding in your hand. Depth of field is also very thin at wide apertures, so it’s helpful to use narrower apertures — meaning your shutter speed goes down. In most cases, a tripod is essential in macro photography to keep your image in focus and your aperture closed down enough that the whole subject is sharp.
3. Panning shots
A tripod, or at the very least a monopod, is essential for panning shots, where you move the camera along a plane. This is helpful for any object that is moving, like a race car, a flying bird, or a person running. Some stabilization will allow you to keep your shot level.
4. Heavy equipment
Anyone who has been a photographer for a while knows that it can be backbreaking work. The equipment is heavy and only seems to get bigger and heavier the more quality it is. Having a tripod to rest your gear on is a lifesaver, certainly when you have heavy glass or lots of accessories, like flashes and batteries and brackets. Let a tripod hold your gear so you don’t have to.
I like to blend several images together in post-production to achieve certain effects. It’s really helpful when the images line up easily and having the camera not move at all is the best way to make sure that happens.
6. Telephoto shots
When using very long lenses, it’s difficult to keep the camera from shaking and affecting the sharpness of your image. For nature photography or sports photography, you may be using a 400mm lens and still see blurriness at 1/400 or 1/800 of a second from hand holding the camera. A tripod gives you the stability you need if it’s necessary to shoot at slower shutter speeds.
This telephoto shot needed a tripod to keep the buildings and streams of light sharp
7. Helps to slow down
With digital cameras, sometimes we are so busy snapping a large quantity of photos that we don’t stop and take the time to focus on quality composition. Typically a tripod is not a burden to set up, but it gives us just a little more time to stop and think about the placement of the camera, the focal length, and the alignment of our subject in the frame.
8. Video work
If you end up doing any video work with your DSLR, having a tripod will make a unbelievable difference in the quality of your production. Flip on your TV and let me know how many shows are using hand-held footage. Stabilizing your camera on a tripod for video clips is the easiest way to achieve professional looking resuts.
Every photographer should have a tripod — or several. I use a heavy Manfrotto with a 808RC4 head for work, a cheap aluminum SLIK for fun, a Manfrotto MKC3-H01 for travel, and a Gorillapod for unique situations.